Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2 years and counting

Well, that lingering cold has finally packed its bags and left. It's such a relief just to feel like a human being again. There's been so much going on lately that it's almost impossible to find time for sitting on the sidelines. Every day it's early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.... maybe minus the early to bed part. In fact, another Ukrainiversary (yes, that's Ukraine + anniversary) has slipped by unnoticed. So Ukraine, here's to you! It's good that we're not sick of each other yet : )

There's something off today, though.

Maybe it's the gloomy, rainy weather.
Maybe it's that Tuesday's usually tasty lunch- pizza- had mayonnaise on it. (oh, why?????)
Maybe it was that student who stubbornly refused to speak a word of English during class and who participated enthusiastically in all the activities, only... in near 100% Russian.

Or maybe it's this.
Thanks to the instant nature of today's world, two big pieces of news were revealed in the same 15-minute time frame this afternoon.
a) the high-school ex-boyfriend is celebrating several months of sobriety in AA 
b) the last of the "I-really-want-a-baby!" friends has finally achieved her goal : )

It's weird to be so far from my friends and their big announcements. I mean, it's really great news, the BEST possible news to hear, actually.... but something about it is unsettling, like it makes me realize how far out of touch our orbits have spun to be hearing this via email and social media. It's very real-world news and one of the truths of living in a foreign country is that it always feels a tad unreal, like playing pretend in some way. (In honesty, it may be many things but it's not pretend: it's hard, it's confusing, it's exhilarating, but still, often with a touch of fantasy. A touch of the someday this will all end and there will be a new beginning. A touch of the wow, this exotic foreigner card sure brings a lot of offers that normal me would never get.)

Perhaps it's possible to live in the real world and abroad at the same time, but do you see what I mean? Isn't it often a contradiction in terms?

My other dear friend just turned 30 and has been having many of the expected moments of self-analysis: what am I doing with my life? is this the job I want? where's prince charming? When I turned the same age this spring, none of those questions came to me. I assumed it was because I'd already been following my heart all this time, but maybe it's just because 30 doesn't feel real. It's a real-world number and we're living somewhat in the expat bubble. It's harder for reality to reach in and knock you around.

But at the same time it's not like we're living in an ocean-view castle on cloud #9.

Friends all have bank accounts and faithfully click 'submit' to the IRS every April 14th.

It's really embarrassing but I'm behind on my taxes in 3 separate countries. And this chocolate box full of envelopes is our sole bank account these days:
at least it's open 24/7 and there are no fees for withdrawals!

Countless friends have proceeded through the dating/engagement/wedding-and-beyond rituals.

We're still in the midst of a veeeery long engagement, ever since a Fourth-of-July a long time 7 years ago (!!!) in a waterlogged tent in Skagway, Alaska. The only contributing member of society we're raising is a cat. A dangerously cantankerous cat.

I feel like other people are making financial and human investments for the future. Our investment in the future is all the years it's going to take to pay off 50 grand in student loans.

Ugh, sorry, that's a lot of whine, whine, whine.
I guess what it comes down to is this:

because of the surreal nature of being a stranger in a strange land, you miss out on a lot of the normal things.

Normal bad things, sure, like mortgage payments, existential crises, or feeling stuck and obligated to work in a job you don't like, but normal good things too. For example, saving up money for a goal. Having the legal rights of a citizen and not having to worry about a visa's approaching expiration date. Seeing loved ones at least once year. Driving a car. Hearing good news face-to-face.

These things my friends did- dropping alcohol and starting a family- are monstrously huge things. By choosing to live this life, the opportunity to do big things like that has somewhat been adjusted. It's become opportunity with a little 'o'. At this point, success is when the man at the xerox shop when he asks "Do you want single-sided copies?" and I understand and reply "No, double-sided, please." Seriously, that would be a very good day. Or finding out what my jeans size is in local measurements and finally being able to buy a pair.

It seems like by making this big dream happen- the dream of living in Ukraine- now all my dreams have all become tiny ones.


  1. First of all--Happy Ukrainiversary! All expats know that it is not a walk in the park, this living-abroad thing, and your success should be celebrated :)

    Second--I'm glad that you are touching on some of this specific things right as I'm struggling with them myself. On the heels of a trip home and back, I can't help but feel the tug of "Wouldn't life be easier if..." or "Geez, my professional life would have been so different if I could only have a real residency card," and "Man, I'm still nervous about talking on the phone in certain situations" on and on. I can't help but feel a bit cynical and pensive about it all.

    As if this weren't enough, I've got a few friends gearing up to get married at home. One of them asked me to be a bridesmaid but that's impossible to manage in a whirlwind weekend trip.

    We are doing something difficult, and I appreciate the way you can address both the exciting and the not-so-glamorous sides of things on your blog.Yes, you are right that we miss out on some normal things from home. But hopefully our lives are more enriched for the adventures and cultural exchanges that surrounds us each and every day--even in something as seemingly simple as getting the correct photocopies!

    1. Hola Cassandra!! Thank you for stopping by with your comments. I wonder if this frustration and doubt is a fall thing for expats... just saw someone else's thoughts about the same issue on a Moscow blog.

      Yes, you're right on with "our lives are more enriched for the adventures and cultural exchanges" and it is an absolutely worthy experience to look back on. It's a very, very difficult thing to regret travel, if not flat-out impossible to do. At the same time, it's definitely sometimes more glamorous in retrospect than at the moment. But I guess the grass is always greener, eh? Gracias for your positivity!

      PS: Hahaha, I'm still nervous about talking on the phone in ANY situation!!! :p It always sounds like a phone call from the land of gibberish!

  2. I almost forget how hard it must be to live so far away from everything, but I encourage you to look at it a different way, as I have been trying to do lately in my life. Think of all the great stories you will have to tell when/if you do settle down and have kids. You are doing a very awesome thing with your life that many can't do because it's scary to be so far away and live like you do, but I admire you for the amazing life you're living. You are helping some people live their adventurous side through you and eventually you will get to be on the other side and you'll have so many great memories that it will all be worth it. You'll have the best of both worlds :)

    1. My dear Jenny, such a nice surprise to see your kind words here! Honestly, you are someone I often look up to as having a life I'd like to live someday. Remember when you and Edgar and your puppies came out to visit us at the beach? I remember a lot of things that we talked about that day (and wow, you guys have grown so much as a family since then!) and I feel like I'm at that point in my life now, the point that you were at then. I've been eagerly following all the domestic adventures you guys have had since then and hope to experience them myself soon(ish).

  3. Aw, that's sweet! I was always looking at your life and wishing I could be that adventurous :)
    But you are right, travel is something you will always regret not doing and it's hard to do too much of it with little kids so it's good that you are getting it out of the way now. That way you won't be too bored when domestic life keeps you at home for weeks on end :) but I'm sure it will all happen for you soon and I can't wait to share those fun times with you guys! Hang in there and know that even though friends are far away in distance, we still feel close to you. I also often think of our fun meeting at the beach and hope to do it again someday!

  4. Happy two years! It's quite the milestone! Gosh, reading this was amazing. I have to admit that it is quite reassuring to know that there are other expats who share many of the same ideas, thoughts, fears even about living in this so called "expat bubble" and all the things one misses out on by doing so. I personally go through ups and downs, one day convinced that it's what I want to be doing, and the next ready to sack it all off and literally jump on the next plane home. But five years later, I am still here. And while there are many things we miss out on, there are also many things we have the opportunity to experience. I know that there are many people who admire and appreciate that living abroad is in itself a pretty big deal. It is an incredible experience in so many different ways. Good luck, and I hope your third year gets off to a great start! :) x